01: A study of new religious communities in the Catholic Church shows that orders that focus on evangelism draw the most new recruits, with those centering on prayer and contemplation also drawing new members.
The study, conducted by sociologist Sr. Patricia Wittberg, looked at 157 new communities across the U.S. The CARA Report (Winter), a newsletter on research in American Catholicism, reports that Wittberg found communities specializing in evangelization were larger and more appealing than the other communities. Fewer than nine percent of these communities reported having no one in formation compared to 43 percent of the apostolic groups, and 22 percent of the monasteries.
Communities focused on prayer and contemplation are receiving a larger percentage of new members than in earlier periods, according to Wittberg. When asked to describe their “charism” or special gift and inspiration, the most frequent responses were Franciscan (22 percent), Carmelite (12 percent) and Benedictine (11 percent).
Twenty-eight percent did not cite any of the established charisms as their inspiration and claimed to have developed their own vision. Wittberg concludes that the “Catholic Church may be on the threshold of another cycle of rebirth in religious life,” after a period of steep decline. One thing is clear; these new communities are not the institution-builders of earlier years; very few reported running or opening parochial schools, colleges or hospitals. Most prefer giving hands-on service to those in need.
(CARA Report, Georgetown University, Washington, DC 20057-1203)
02: Considered by many to be cultic, or Satan-worshipping, or leftover New Age esotericism, the Neopagan movement is continuing to add new adherents, according to recent research.
“Today, there are at least 200,000 American Neopagans and estimates of twice that number are not implausible,” write Professors Danny L. Jorgenson, and Scott E. Russell of the University of South Florida in the Journal for the Scientific Study of Religion (January). The authors show the Neopagans are not the stereotypical “under-rewarded status discontents” believed by many. Rather, as the article suggests based on self-administered questionnaires, those studied participate in a movement which is” exceptionally fluid, diverse, and eclectic.”
Their religious ideas reflect an overwhelming preference for feminist, ecological, occultism, anti-patriarchal synthesis not readily definable by contemporary standards. On social characteristics, the Neopagans reflect much of current American religious life; most have dropped out of participation in Protestant, Catholic, or Jewish groups. They are more highly educated than Americans in general. Indeed, most stated that their rejection of traditional religion was “the principal reason for their involvement ” with Neopaganism. They practice their faith both individually and in groups, which are constantly being reorganized and recreated.
The authors conclude that the participants are neither reactionary nor revolutionary, but reformist in their response to traditional religions. They see themselves as freed from certain aspects of scientific rationality and technology. They are, the authors conclude, highly individualistic, preferring experience over doctrine, pragmatic on governance and authority, relativistic and syncretistic. They are, in brief, people who are living on the edge of current religious life.
(Journal for the Society of the Scientific Study of Religion, 872 SWKT, Sociology Dept., Brigham Young University, Provo, UT 84602-5388)
— By Erling Jorstad
03: As some specialists were finding evidence that Protestant evangelicalism had somehow run out of the steam it utilized in the last two decades, others such as the respected statistician David Barrett have discovered something else — evangelical Christianity remains the world’s most rapidly-growing religious movement.
Recently released statistics show that some 645 million evangelicals are now practicing their faith, constituting about 11 percent of the world’s population. Barrett, and associate Patrick Johnstone state that the movement is growing 3.5 times faster than the world population.
Pentecostal and charismatic churches, which are subdivisions within evangelicalism, are growing actually 4.5 times faster. This is the only religious movement growing significantly through conversion, according to Johnstone’s book, The Church is Bigger than you Think.
(U.S.Center for World Missions, 1999)
— By Erling Jorstad